Beyond the Stars is a series of Science Fiction related posts where I discuss different aspects of the genre and the many tropes and plot lines associated with it. Today, I talk about Blade Runner’s source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in a series of posts focused on the Blade Runner Universe.
Beyond The Stars: Blade Runner Overview (4 of 4): Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The final part of the Blade Runner overview is here. Today, I’ll be focusing on its source material. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. You can find a copy here. This is a classic Sci-Fi book by an author who’s equally as well known. This is what Blade Runner is based on, but not without a few alterations. Well, I say “few”, but there’s a lot that was altered. Aside from that, it mostly follows the book, having many of the same characters and events. The two could easily be seen as alternate realities.
Instead of a usual novel review (which I have one planned later this week), I’ll give my general thoughts and list all of the differences between the film and the book. And there are enough to make a list out of.
So let’s begin.
Overview of the story
I won’t do a full-length review since if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll have a basic idea of what the book is like. The same story is there as well. A group of Nexus-6 androids escaped from Mars onto Earth and it’s up to Rick Deckard to stop them. The same characters are there as well. Deckard, Rachel, Roy, and Pris are all there, but some other characters who weren’t even in the film make an appearance.
The book is a little different in that while android hunting…actually, I should get this out of the way first. The first notable change is that they’re not called replicants, but androids (or as they’re abbreviated, andys). Anyway, the main focus, while android hunting is a big part of it, is around these fake animals that Rick has such a fascination for. Many of the real world animals died out and robotic copies are popular amongst the people. Like androids, they’re indistinguishable from their living counterparts.
Rick initially has a fake sheep but seeks to buy a real one. This plot is nowhere to be found in the movie since I guess hunting for fake animals isn’t exactly an engaging plot for a film. It’s a wonderful idea for a book, but between two different mediums, something had to go.
The book, while entertaining, felt a little slow. It took a while for the story to pick up (probably by the sixth chapter or so. There’s twenty-two in total), but a lot of older books were like this.
The story was definitely engaging and holds up, even today. It takes place in 2021 (which, again, isn’t that far off as of today). Originally it took place in 1992, but I think it’s obvious that nothing in this book came to pass. It was published originally in 1968, and considering that space travel was the big thing around this time, it really seemed like the future was just around the corner.
It’s also one of those stories that feel old fashioned. It’s clear that the author had no idea that phone booths would become obsolete with the advent of cellphones and even smartphones. Also, the language sounds old-fashioned as well. The book is loaded with adverbs (terms like brusquely, which, according to my Kindle, means abrupt), had an almost unreadable and somewhat offensive accent, and felt straight out of the 60s, but in the future.
Seeing words and phrases that you don’t see in common usage these days and being a young whippersnapper myself, it came as a bit of a pause to me. But that’s the old days for you.
A lot, actually. It’s not so different that it’s unrecognizable, but initially, it felt like it. The beginning of both the film and the book start out in such different avenues. The book starts with a Penfield mood organ, a device that alters one’s emotions to feel either happy, sad, or angry. It’s a strange invention which I don’t think we’re crazy enough to invent (then again, I’ve been proven wrong before). The beginning threw me off and I wondered if the film had anything to do with the book. But the more I went on, I did see numerous similarities.
As far as Rick goes, he is a bounty hunter and he’s killing andys/replicants. The term Blade Runner isn’t mentioned once. I wonder where Ridley Scott and the team got that term from. But as far as the position, the main function is still the same. They retire these androids, especially the illegal Nexus-6 ones. Throughout the story, you have a sense of sympathy for these androids, especially those who want to live normal lives.
Another character, J.R. Isidore, is a replicant engineer in the movie, while in the books, he’s a “chickenhead” who practices a unique religion called Mercerism. Mercerism as a whole is exclusive to the book and is the central focus of another character, a TV personality called Buster Friendly.
Those things I mentioned, the mood organ, animals, Mercerism, and Buster Friendly, all play a sizeable role in the book but aren’t even mentioned in the film. While the film did work without them, it’s a jarring sight that makes the two works different in their own right. The movie seems more like a regular 80s action flick while the book is more elaborate. That’s the main difference between the two mediums. One’s meant purely for entertainment, while the other is capable of being slower paced to have more focus on character development and worldbuilding.
It wouldn’t make sense for what is essentially an action crime drama to go slow and focus on a potentially fake animal in a vet. I could see why they made the changes, and honestly, it worked out for the better.
Also, there’s the climax. In the original film, Roy Baty puts up a good fight against Rick and eventually resigns to his fate. In the book, they give up without a fight. The book, honestly, felt a little anticlimactic and I fully expected Roy to at least defend himself against a bounty hunter like Rick. This is one area where I thought the movie did a better job than the book.
I should also mention that the actual company name isn’s Tyrell but the Rosen Association. The name change is also a mystery to me since I felt it would have been fine if they had left it. So Rachel’s full name is Rachel Rosen. Speaking of Rachel, there’s Pris. She’s an exact clone of Rachel and in the movie, Pris is a completely different person. This moment in the book is massive because it means the Rosen Association has the power to create whole armies of these replicants. All complete lookalikes. It’s an interesting thought that isn’t explored in the movies.
Anyway, that’s all of the major changes I can think of. Everything else isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.
Which is better?
Between the two, I would honestly say the movie improved on its source material a lot. I am normally against adaptations tearing the work apart because they’re usually never faithful to the original source material. Not only was the movie faithful to the book in terms of plot and setting, but it’s a good example of an adaptation that while it changes the story dramatically, takes special care not to go too far. It’s still the original world but in a more modern setting.
It’s interesting seeing a movie made so many years after the original work and then going back to see what changed and what didn’t. I’ll do more like this in the future, seeing certain adaptations and how they stack up against its source material. A lot of it can go wrong, but when it goes right, only good comes out of it.
So those are my overall thoughts on the entire Blade Runner universe. A fantastic world that holds the test of time, even if the predictions may not have come true. That’s Science Fiction for you. Either way, I’ve become a fan. I can’t wait to see more from this universe and I’ll definitely look forward to more.
So what did you think of this special? Would you like to see more of it? I won’t do these too often, but when I do, I’ll definitely continue them someday. Let me know in the comments and I’ll keep at it.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.